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Feature: Harvest Outreach Center Expands to Meet Youth Mental Health Needs

Written by Alyssa Wilson, University of Lynchburg Bonner Intern

At first, Harvest Outreach Center started their organization serving two clients, now they are serving up to 350 students on any given day in both Lynchburg City and Campbell County school systems, and their own private school for students with disabilities, Beacon Academy in Rustburg.

Harvest Outreach Center was started 19 years ago by counselor Martha Houck and current Executive Director Carrington Connelly, who was a fifth-grade teacher at the time. They noticed a need for more mental health services in the public schools and decided to make a change themselves. 

Harvest first started in Gladys in Campbell County but has since spread its impact throughout Lynchburg City Schools with the help of grant funding. 

All of Harvest Outreach Center’s school-based mental health programs are supported primarily through grant and Medicaid funding, however donations help them to bring more students into their programs during the school year and the summer. 

The organization focuses on three programs throughout the school year: Social Emotional Behavior Supports, Therapeutic Day Treatment, and Outpatient Therapy which serve students directly in their school environment. 

Students are referred to Harvest by teachers, school administration, and guardians when a student is demonstrating particular challenges in the classroom or needing additional emotional support. Licensed mental health and qualified mental health professionals are placed in the schools to work one-on-one with students, addressing their needs and building their skills. 

“Our goal is to really be able to support students who are struggling to remain in the school setting, to help them stay there by giving them the extra support that they need,” says Director of Programs, Maria Wood. 

Harvest is able to provide summer programs to a limited number of students through funding provided by Medicaid, but this puts a limit on the impact they are able to make when school is not in session. 

Maria Wood mentions the importance of summer programs and the impact they have on students’ socialization skills and overall development. 

During summer programming, mental health professionals take their students on community outings and teach them different socialization skills in various settings. 

Harvest Outreach Center is always hiring mental health professionals and clinical professionals so that they are able to expand their reach of students in public schools. 

However, their largest need now is for funding to keep summer programs running and reaching more students. 

To learn more about Harvest Outreach Center and how to support their mission, visit their SHARE Greater Lynchburg profile.

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